In partnership with the National Archives, Fold3 recently finished scanning and publishing the complete set of compiled military service records of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The collection is comprised of over 3.6 million document images for the 1st through 138th USCT Infantry, the 1st through 6th USCT Cavalry, and the USCT Artillery.
Notably, it was 150 years ago this month, on May 22, 1863, that the U.S. War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops under General Orders, No. 143. Prior to the Civil War, African American soldiers had served in many battles on American soil, but it wasn’t until the Bureau was created that official regiments were formed. And, while Union regiments had African American soldiers within their ranks prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, it was that famous announcement that officially authorized the service of African Americans in combat.
The most recently published USCT records, the Union Colored Troops 56th-138th Infantry, were scanned directly from the original textual records, while the rest of the collection was digitized from microfilm. Two affidavits of ownership show the dramatic difference in depth and color of the different processes as we compare a page for Adam Hamilton (67th USCT), scanned from paper records, with that of Edward English (5th USCT Cavalry), previously archived on microfilm.
Additional documents from the file of Adam Hamilton, a private in the 67th USCT, illustrate the many types of records we can uncover in this rich collection of military records. Hamilton enlisted January 24, 1864, in Mexico, Missouri. His physical characteristics and place of birth appear on a Volunteer Descriptive List. He was absent from duty in March and April as he was sick with smallpox in hospital at Port Hudson, Louisiana. He died of Variola (smallpox) on April 7, 1864. Although his military service was short, his file includes 24 pages as Hamilton was a slave of John Vivian of Boone County, Missouri, and Vivian was awarded compensation of $300.
Additional documents within the USCT compiled military service records include:
- A Final Statement for Pvt. David Cantwell of Tennessee who died at 42 of typhoid fever.
- The Certificate of Disability for Discharge for Pvt. Coleman Cardon, “wounded in three different places by Guerillas.”
- An Inventory of Effects, for Pvt. Jackson H. Levi of the 54th Massachusetts.
- A Substitute Volunteer Enlistment stating that John C. Cannon agreed to serve in place of George Metzger, Esq. of Colerain Township, Ohio.
Read more about the U.S. Colored Troops, their service in the Civil War, and access descriptive pamphlets and related resources from the Fold3 description page for Union Compiled Military Service Records – Colored Troops. Explore the complete set of compiled military service records of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) on Fold3 free through May 31st.